On the surface, it appeared that Childress was taking the plum job in the league at the time. He even said as much during his introductory press conference upon being hired. After all, he was taking over a team that finished with a winning record. But things weren’t nearly as good as they seemed.
With Daunte Culpepper’s health and state of mind what it was, there was no franchise quarterback, and even the team’s winning record in 2005 probably overstated what talent this team really had on paper.
After the Love Boat fiasco and the Culppepper injury, Tice rallied the troops behind Brad Johnson to finish the year 7-3.
But a closer look reveals that they won only two of those games against teams with winning records – Week 10 against the Giants and Week 17 against the Bears.
But the Giants game was a fluke as the team scored three touchdowns on returns, a 92-yard interception return by Darren Sharper, an 86-yard kickoff return by Koren Robinson and a 71-yard punt return by Mewelde Moore. That and a 48-yard field goal by Paul Edinger added up to the three-point win. Otherwise the Vikings were completely outplayed in that game.
The season finale against Chicago (Tice’s final game) was entirely against the Bears’ scrubs and they were preparing for the playoffs and had absolutely nothing to play for.
The other five wins en route to the 7-3 finish came against teams that were all somewhere between 4-12 and 6-10. On the entire season, in their remaining five games against .500 or better teams, they were soundly outscored 157-47. The average point differential in games they lost was 19 points.
Childress has discretely suggested that things were a lot worse than he originally thought they were. In his first year at the helm, he got this punchless team to open a very competitive 4-2. But once opposing teams had a chance to game plan for them, the slide began.
Interestingly, under Tice the team was considered strong offensively but weak on defense. Since taking over, Childress has replaced 8 of 11 starters on offense. Yet on defense, it’s been half that with 4 of 11 new starters.
Overall, there are 31 players who were on the team for Tice’s last game that are now gone, which represents about a 55 percent turnover in the roster in just a little over a year. Here’s a position-by-position look at the re-shaping of the roster during that time.
Quarterback: Tice’s tenure finished with Brad Johnson, Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan on the active roster and Culpepper on injured reserve. All four are now gone. Tarvaris Jackson’s future begins in 2007, Brooks Bollinger competes as the veteran backup, with Drew Henson and Tyler Thigpen in the hunt for the young, developmental role at the position. Given Culpepper’s history since being traded, the Vikings haven’t gone backwards, but until T-Jack produces, they haven’t improved yet, either.
Running Back: Gone are Michael Bennett and Adimchinobe Echemandu. New are Chester Taylor, Adrian Peterson and Artose Pinner. Bennett averaged 635 yards rushing in five seasons with the Vikings, and he had 200 in a backup role with the Chiefs last season. Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards in his first season. Pinner basically “played” in one game and rushed for 125 yards and 3 TDs. The rookie Peterson is more talented than all of them, so the Vikings have dramatically upgraded here.
Wide Receiver: Childress didn’t inherit Randy Moss and Cris Carter. They had Koren Robinson, Nate Burleson, Travis Taylor and Marcus Robinson, who are all gone now. Koren Robinson is now under league suspension. Burleson was coming off an injury-riddled campaign with the Vikings in 2005 and only caught 18 passes for 192 yards with the Seahawks last year. He did a nice job as their return guy, however, averaging 24.7 on kickoffs and 9.5 with a touchdown on punts. Taylor is a journeyman-type and Marcus Robinson flashed big plays between various nicks, bumps and bruises. The jury is still out on their roster replacements, but Sidney Rice, Bobby Wade, Aundrae Allison and Chandler Williams would seem to at least offer a lot more upside potential.
Tight End: Tice got a lot of productivity out of Jermaine Wiggins (140 catches for 1,273 yards and 5 touchdowns) in two seasons, but his production dropped dramatically (46-386-1) in the West Coast Offense of Childress. Instead, Childress tries to replace Wiggins with Visanthe Shiancoe, who like Wiggins, doesn’t join the Vikings with an incredible track record of productivity. However, Shiancoe has a lot more God-given athletic talent and footspeed than the overachieving Wiggins.
Offensive Line: There are still a couple question marks on the right side, but Steve Hutchinson has been a serious upgrade over the likes of Adam Goldberg and/or Chris Liwienski at guard. Tice suffered from the absence of Matt Birk, who has come back strong and represents a significant upgrade over having to play with Cory Withrow and Melvin Fowler in the pivot. Also departed is Mike Rosenthal, with Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson competing for his right tackle spot. To this point, that’s a wash. Overall, Hutchinson alone makes this area improved.
Defensive Line: The only departure is DT C.J. Mosley, who was traded for Bollinger. Added since then have been prospects like Ray Edwards, Jayme Mitchell, Brian Robison and Khreem Smith. Overall, DL coach Karl Dunbar got better production from this group than the previous regime.
Linebacker: Sam Cowart, Keith Newman, Raonall Smith, Rod Davis and most recently Napoleon Harris are now gone. Harris excelled under Childress after being a bust with Tice. Cowart, Newman and Davis are pretty much done. Smith is a journeyman-type. Ben Leber was a significant upgrade, and last-year’s top pick Chad Greenway figures to round out an improved linebacking corps.
Defensive Back: Corey Chavous was allowed to leave via free agency. Dwight Smith was brought in with no dropoff at all in productivity. Plus, Mike Doss, Tank Williams and Greg Blue have also been added to the mix at safety, a dramatic improvement over Will Hunter. At cornerback, gone are Brian Williams, Fred Smoot, Ralph Brown and Ukee Dozier. In are Cedric Griffin, Marcus McCauley, Charles Gordon and Ronyell Whitaker. Williams was and is a solid player, but not for what the Jaguars paid to land him. Smoot was a huge disappointment on and off the field. Griffin appears to be on par with what Williams offered, just younger and less expensive for now. McCauley, even as a rookie, probably can’t be any less dependable or productive than the overpriced Smoot.
Special Teams: Paul Edinger was replaced by Ryan Longwell, who is considered more consistent and reliable. There might also be better talent on hand now with the coverage units. On the downside, nobody’s been as effective on kickoff returns as Koren Robinson was when he went to the Pro Bowl his lone year with the Vikings.
Lots of questions still remain, and while Childress & Co. have brought in a lot of talent and youth, potential alone doesn’t win games in the NFL. However, the personnel on paper and the optimism looking into the future would seem to be much improved. That said, there might be a total of 31 players who have been jettisoned since Childress took over, but it’s hard to truly second-guess most of those changes to this point.